Iceland. Land of fire and ice, long winter nights and the best music festival in the world.
First held in a hangar in 1999 at the domestic airport in Reykjavík with only four bands on the bill, Iceland Airwaves this year boasts 217 acts playing over five days. Add to this an off venue schedule (free to non-festival pass holders) of roughly equal size and you’ve got one hell of a lot of gigs.
So many shows mean a lot of venues are needed and this is the real beauty of Airwaves with shows held in churches, cinemas, hostels, cafes, bars, concert halls, theatres as well as impromptu performances in local residents houses giving a real sense of community to the festival. It sells out every year and this year is no exception with the majority of tickets being sold to non-Icelanders for the first time in the festival’s history.
Roughly 35% of the line-up this year consists of International acts. The UK is represented by AlunaGeorge, Gold Panda, Jon Hopkins, Money, Savages, Young Fathers and a band who would do well not to live up to their name while in Iceland, Stealing Sheep.
Flying the cross shaped flags for the Nordic nations meanwhile are acts as diverse as Anna Von Hausswolff, Goat (Sweden), MØ, The Mansisters (Denmark), Byrta, Eivør Pálsdóttir (Faroe Islands) & Electric Eye (Norway). Throw in the likes of Australia’s Jagwar Ma and Ireland’s Villagers and we got a recipe for a very tasty party.
The tail end of Hurricane Sandy hit Reykjavík at last year’s festival and forced the cancellation of Swans. Roofs were blown off and punters had to literally grab onto lamp posts to make their way from venue to venue. Some of the names making the Trans-Atlantic crossing this time in hopefully calmer weather are Zola Jesus, Midlake & Yo La Tengo (USA) and Cousins, Fucked Up & We Are Wolves (Canada).
The real focus of the festival however is Icelandic music and for a country with only 320,000 inhabitants there are an amazing amount of top quality acts around. Nearly everyone you meet is in a band, or more than likely, two or three. It’s very common to see the same people in many different groups over the course of the festival and there’s a good chance you’ll end up at a house party at 4am with some of them or chatting to them in the supermarket the next day.
Some names to look out for (but maybe not in the supermarket) are dark electro overlords Legend, the brilliant metal masterminds of Solstafir and Kontinuum and the sweet folky vibes of Árstíðir, Sóley (who apparently is hosting a show in her garage this year) and the lovely pastoral tunes of 1860.
Out of town, the Blue Lagoon Chill Party will be taking place but instead of a party on the Saturday in the refreshing geo-thermal waters as per usual, this year sees a 4 day off venue program with the music taking place inside.
Airwaves isn’t really geared towards the punter that’s only into one type of music but if eclectic is your cup of tea then it’s the best place on Earth. Metal, reggae, neo-classical, folk, rap, electro, psych, lo-fi, indie, drum ‘n’ bass are all here and much more. That’s not even mentioning the Weirdcore collective, whose members carry on the legacy of the late great Biogen. These days Tanya & Marlon, Futuregrapher & ThizOne are just some of the bearers of that particular flame. Fans of Squarepusher and Aphex Twin should try to attend some of their shows.
Not long left then until it’s the reunion of old friends, the meeting of new ones, drunken conversations in someone’s house at all hours, queuing for hot dogs in the rain, catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights on the way from venue to venue, playing football on the street at 6am, waking up hung over but not caring a bit knowing you are in the best city in the world surrounded by the best music imaginable and swearing blind that you’ll be back next year. Which like all of us who have been there before, you will be.
All words by Emmett Mullaney.
Iceland Airwaves is held 30 October to 3 November. More info on the website.